ProPublica has published an in-depth investigation of how Mike Pence has leaned on the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to steer foreign aid to Christian groups overseas, pressuring it to award grants to Iraqi Christian groups favored by Christians in the US — even after the agency’s normal grant process said no to the groups’ applications. It’s just one more way in which the Trump administration is busy dismantling the norms of governing so that its friends are rewarded — and to keep Evangelical voters happy going into 2020. The Trump regime may want to cut foreign assistance across the board — especially since most Americans wrongly assume far more money goes to foreign aid than really does. But by White Pickup-Driving God, whatever aid we do give had better go to good Christians, not to godless heathen Muslims.
As with other ProPublica reports, Yeganeh Torbati’s story is in-depth, well-sourced, and perfectly infuriating, which is why we urge you to go read the whole thing. The story is based on a review of internal USAID emails and interviews with “nearly 40 current and former U.S. officials and aid professionals,” many of whom were very disturbed to see political appointees interfering with the process of awarding grants, particularly in Iraq, where the administration has decided to cut general assistance to the United Nations’ effort to rebuild parts of the country that had been occupied by ISIS. Instead, the administration is focusing US assistance on helping Iraq’s religious minorities, particularly its small Christian community, which has influential friends in the US, as well as the Yazidi minority, which ISIS targeted for especially cruel oppression. It’s not that the aid is being wasted — everyone in Iraq needs help! — but rather that the administration is using reconstruction aid as an adjunct to its 2020 campaign. Gotta help the oppressed Iraqi Christians so the Evangelists will turn out to vote.
Where US aid has traditionally been approved by career professionals in USAID using a long-established set of procedures aimed at getting the most help to the most people for every dollar spent, the Trump administration has from Day One set out to help Christians in Iraq, because that’s what US fundagelicals have been demanding.
Not addressed by the ProPublica piece is the rightwing conviction that Barack Obama discriminated against Christians in directing aid, because he wasn’t one. (He is.) Just look at how most of the people in Iraq who got aid were Muslims. It’s the sort of thing that might happen in a 97 percent Muslim country. Nor does the article mention the corresponding panic that Obama somehow intended to flood US America with Muslim terrist refugees, though both are very much part of the background to the administration’s preference for helping Christians above others. They’re just balancing out Obama’s proclivity for helping Muslims, see?
USAID regulations are pretty clear that no religious considerations are allowed in awarding aid. Grants
must be free from political interference or even the appearance of such interference and must be made on the basis of merit, not on the basis of the religious affiliation of a recipient organization, or lack thereof.
But the religious right believes the biggest victims of ISIS are Christians, and Trump, while knowing nothing about Christianity, knows he needs to keep Evangelical voters happy. Which would explain why, at the Values Voters Summit last month, he touted what a great job he was doing at making sure US aid reached religious minorities in Iraq and Syria (BUT NOT THE KURDS! KURDS BAD NOW).
“Other presidents would not be doing that,” he said. “They’d be spending a lot more money, but they’d be spending it on things that would not make you very happy.”
Really terrible things, like sending money to groups that would help all Iraqis, even the almost-all-of-them that are Muslim. The horror.
Luckily for the Yazidis, their near-genocide by ISIS made a good smokescreen for the administration’s desire to direct aid almost exclusively to Iraqi Christians:
Initially, Pence’s office and political appointees at USAID were focused on helping Christians, with little attention to Yazidis, a small, ancient sect that was targeted in an especially cruel manner by Islamic State militants, said a current official and a former foreign service officer. Over time, career officials “helped educate” political appointees on the extent of the Yazidis’ suffering, in hopes of getting their support for directing some aid at non-Christian groups, the former foreign service officer said.
“There was a very ideological focus on Christians, and most of the questions were about Christians,” this person said. “We were trying to get them to focus on others in the minority communities that might need assistance.”
Voila! Now the administration is helping “religious minorities,” not just one sect Mike Pence loves the most. Please put away your complaints about favoring one religion, OK?
The story also details how Pence’s people and political appointees in USAID were especially responsive to the complaints and lobbying of Bashar Warda, a Chaldean Catholic bishop from Erbil, Iraq, who contended that the UN, which administered USAID funds in Iraq, wasn’t doing enough to help Christians in general, and his favored reconstruction groups in particular.
In early June 2018 USAID awarded grants to a bunch of big established groups with a track record, like Catholic Relief Services and others, plus some smaller Iraq-based groups that submitted good proposals. Unfortunately, two groups favored by Bishop Warda had their applications rejected — again, based solely on the strength of the proposals and normal approval guidelines if you believe the Jebus-haters ProPublica talked to.
The rejected grant applications immediately hit the rightwing media complex fan:
Before USAID had itself announced the awards, Fox News published a detailed account criticizing USAID’s activities in Iraq. “We are worse off now than we were two years ago,” Warda said to Fox.
Two days later, former Reagan administration national security adviser Robert McFarlane and New Jersey Republican Rep. Chris Smith co-authored an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal criticizing USAID’s decision to reject the two Christian organizations. They said it showed career USAID officials were ignoring Pence’s preferences. The title of the op-ed: “Iraqi Christians Are Still Waiting, Mr. Pence.”
Pence’s office then started pushing USAID to stop oppressing Christians, and ordered USAID head Mark Green to get his ass to Iraq and see the oppression. Pence’s office demanded someone be made to pay, and a career civil servant got fired for oppressing Christians (she landed at another federal job, and wouldn’t speak to ProPublica on the matter, no doubt being smart enough to recognize a banana republic when she’s employed by one). And USAID staffers, both the long-timers and even some political appointees, started worrying they too could be “Penced.”
In a follow-up round of grants, six additional small Iraqi organizations divvied up a new pot of $4 million. You may be astonished to learn that two groups associated with the bishop got money this time! This time, the approval process was overseen by political appointees who knew what their job was. And while career USAID officials groused the political folks had no idea how the agency awards grants, and ProPublica saw a document showing neither of the two new winners had been included in a list of leading applicants, the new people got the grants awarded where Pence wanted, so how’s that for efficient?
Oh, and please overlook the tiny detail that one of the groups that got a grant also has ties to a separate nonprofit that pushes anti-Muslim propaganda. That couldn’t possibly cause any trouble in Iraq, could it? You can’t get all picky about political correctness when there’s rebuliding of a devastated country to be done.
As we say, go read the whole thing, and be amazed at how easily a bunch of very motivated ideologues can trash the institutional safeguards that are supposed to prevent political interference in an agency. Especially when there’s a very loud electoral constituency (and a TV network) insisting they do so, for the glory of God.
Yr Wonkette is supported entirely by reader donations. Please send us money so we can keep bringing you the word of the Lord Almighty, or at least the Temple of Zoom. God bless.